[UPDATED] Tuesday’s return to PUSD campuses of kindergarten, first and second grade students was met with joy and relief from a wide range of teachers, staff, and parents, after more than a year of online learning.
Only half of the students returned to campuses on Tuesday, however, as current distancing regulations permit just small groups of students, called “cohorts,” on campuses from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., two days a week.
Mondays are currently being used as “staff development” days by teachers. Students receive a “grab and go” lunch at 1 p.m.
In some neighborhoods, parents and residents emerged from their homes to watch the happy morning procession of returning students.
“We are really excited to welcome our students back,” said PUSD Superintendent Dr. Brian McDonald in a statement Wednesday.
“Yesterday there was excitement in the air,” he said. “It was the first day of school in person. Teachers were at the top of their game, and the kids were energetic, and the support staff was amazing. Our principals displayed incredible creativity and energy, which was infectious.”
McDonald said that District safety procedures were “implemented with fidelity,” and added that he was “confident” that students and staff would be safe as a result.
“There were minimal issues, especially with technology, since our dedicated teachers received the necessary training, and had the time to set up their classrooms, and practice with their devices for simultaneous learning,” McDonald added.
Dr. Angela Elizondo Baxter, principal at Willard Elementary, a PUSD International Baccalaureate School, also told Pasadena Now Wednesday, “We had a wonderful first day of school. Students, families, and staff were delighted with how much fun it was to see each other in person. The best part of the day was hearing students say how happy they were to meet their teachers in person.”
PUSD Board member Scott Phelpsarrived early Tuesday at San Rafael Elementary Tuesday, to watch the eager students arriving with their parents.
“I could see the great amount of planning that the teachers had done,” said Phelps, “and the principal leading all of that was Principal Ramirez.”
The school had held a rehearsal day on Monday, said Phelps, with drop-off and meeting locations mapped out beforehand.
As Phelps explained, “There were places where teachers were meeting the kids when they stepped out of the car, and they immediately had a temperature check. So that was pretty cool. And then they would go and line up with their teachers.”
Phelps also remarked that the school had done a “very good job of spreading people out,” with Pre-K, first grade and second grade students all gathered in separate spots on the campus.
Yvonne Davis, a kindergarten teacher at Don Benito School, was thrilled at the return of her students, having had concerns about the need for teachers to be vaccinated.
Said Davis, “I was very excited. I had really felt, as conversations were developing about the possibility of schools opening up, I felt like the line needed to be drawn in the sand, that teachers should be fully vaccinated before they opened schools. And we had the opportunity to be vaccinated if we made that choice for ourselves.”
Having been vaccinated herself, she said, “I was just ready to have some children back face to face.” Davis added that she had held a few parent meetings and “really encouraged” them to send their children back to school.
Said Davis, “Different families have different reasons and different thoughts about the children returning to school,” but noted that out of her 24 students, 20 families signed up to return to school.
“It’s just so lovely to have these delightful little people back,” said Davis. “We don’t teach school for reasons other than the fact that we delight in them. And so this last year being remote has been challenging, and there’s just nothing like having them back on campus and the life that they bring to our campuses.”
Many parents were equally excited about the return to campuses.
“Yesterday was wonderful,” said PUSD parent Kalea Dunkleman, whose son is a second grader at Don Benito.
As Dunkleman said Tuesday, “I think that parents and children were a little bit anxious in conjunction with being extremely excited because it’s been 13 months to the day that they’ve been in classrooms.
“So I think that we’re all just trying to figure out what it’s going to look like,” she continued, “and how it’s going to be, but it went so well. It was really, really smooth.”
Both dropoff and pickup went smoothly for Dunkleman, who said, “When my son got in the car (after school), he was just bursting with stories and giggles, and joy and all those things. So it was a relief to see that he had as much fun as he’d been having last year, and it was just sort of a breath of fresh air to see him so happy to be in school, for sure.”
Students in grades three, four, and five will rejoin their elementary school campuses on Tuesday, April 20, as will middle school and high school students.
Despite the relief over returning students, Councilmember John Kennedy was cautious in his reaction to the reopening of schools, saying, “The obvious concern is that we not open everything too soon, and that it would be in stages so public health professionals could determine if we are on the right track in terms of getting the economy back moving, getting our students back in school, whether it be secondary, primary, college, or trade school.
Continued Kennedy, “And as we learn more from the health professionals, is it wise to make sure all of the children and other professionals are rapidly vaccinated? That is the only way I believe that you will obtain in the short run, herd immunity. So everyone must be vaccinated.”
Kennedy added that he wants to make sure that “because of decisions made that we are not producing an uptick, a significant uptick in the transmission of COVID-19 and its progeny.”